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Tencent Finally Makes a Big Bet on Artificial Intelligence

Tencent, the company behind China’s largest social network and the world’s biggest online games business, always gets props for its products—but not necessarily for its cutting-edge tech. Now the juggernaut is taking steps to change that perception with a big push into AI.

The owner of the WeChat messaging app will soon open an AI research center in the Seattle area, according to people familiar with the matter. It will be run by former Microsoft principal researcher Yu Dong, who announced he was joining Tencent at an artificial intelligence conference in March. Mr. Yu is a leading speech recognition expert who spent nearly two decades at Microsoft.

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Mr. Yu, a U.S.-educated Chinese scientist, is known for his studies on the “cocktail party problem.”